Kill The Messenger
Chapter 1 Sample
kill the messenger
It’s a dark, moonless July night in central Florida. Twenty miles south of the town of Tavares on State Route 561, a pair of yellowed headlights cut through the murkiness. The car is a 2010 Ford Taurus; silver, with a small ding on the rear driver’s side door. Behind the wheel is George Wilman, a chemical engineer. At fifty-three, he was closing in on a sooner-than-expected retirement with a government pension. Now, on this humid summer evening, he was on the run.
Four hours earlier, George had been a department head at a top-secret, found on no maps government test facility. He held this position for the last six months, having moved on from an R&D position with Dow Chemical to what proved to be a “too good to be true” opportunity. George asked many questions before he accepted the offer. In hindsight, George supposed the interviewer handled most—if not all—of his questions too quickly and with a smile that was too plastic. Now, he realized how much was clear.
George looked into the rearview mirror, expecting headlights. There were none. Unfamiliar with the area, he didn’t know what amount of traffic was normal for this stretch of road. In his state of heightened awareness, everything seemed ominous, including the absence of other travelers. A scan of the console showed it was 11:11 p.m. He had covered nearly two hundred miles without incident, a fact that did little to ease his anxiety.
He threw another glance in the rearview, glimpsing himself. His face was as white as the elsewhere moon. His hair—disheveled and thinning—bore fresh streaks of white that appeared over the past few hours. Dime-sized beads of sweat dotted his brow. He swiped at them violently with his forearm, nearly knocking his wire-rimmed glasses onto the floor. The cabin of the car was silent, save for a bit of road noise and the dull thumping of his pulse in his ears.
He took several deep breaths in through his nose, attempting to stave off his growing sense of panic. It worked, his heart rate slow down. He arched his back to stretch it out and let a large exhale out through his mouth, which ended with his lips flapping together. Bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb. George erupted in laughter, his guffaws releasing some of the pent-up tension that seemed to occupy every cell in his body. Some poor facsimile of relaxation washed over him.
The Taurus swerved hard, first onto the soft shoulder, then into the southbound lane. George was sure that he had shit himself as he fought to maintain control of both the machine and his emotions. As the car settled back safely into the northbound lane, George began thinking. Had it been his cell phone? That he threw it out five minutes after he left the facility rendered that option an impossibility. Had he imagined it? Was he cracking up completely? Those options seemed absolutely plausible.
Then the voice returned. “Geeeoooo-ooooorrrge.” The singsong tone deeply unnerved him. “Calm down George. Don’t have an accident.”
The sarcastic emphasis on the word accident unnerved him further.
“Wha-what?” George asked. He fought to maintain his composure.
Silence. George took another deep breath and tried again.
“Who is this?”
After a brief silence, George got his answer.
The response came devoid of any joviality, the tone deadly serious. There was a brief silence before a cold, joyless laugh burst through the speakers. If he hadn’t shit himself before, he sure as hell had now. George scanned the rearview again, finding no headlights, no vehicular silhouettes, nothing but the inky black night. A flicked switch turned on the interior lights. He cast a couple of quick peeks into the backseat.
Laughter again filled the cabin. “I’m not in the car, George.” The statement was heavy with condescension.
“Where are you then?” George was getting angry as the question left his lips.
The reply he got was terse. “Around.”
George’s heart rate was up again, though this time due to anger. He decided to use it. “Fuck off then. If you work for who I think you do, you’ll be a prison pass-around soon.”
George smiled, momentarily forgetting why he was on the run and from where. He was also trying to forget that this disembodied voice belonged to someone who wanted to stop him from running. Because of what he was dealing with, he also needed to forget that a well-funded attempt to stop him was underway, following a ‘by any means necessary’ philosophy. He took a small amount of solace in knowing that he had initiated a contingency plan before hitting the road.
No response came, and George began another visual scan. No other traffic; sixty-one miles per hour. He had just turned his gaze back to the road when an alert started beeping in the car, drawing his attention back to the instrument cluster. There it was:
“Shit,” George muttered.
“Georgie, looks like you need some gas.” Great, the voice was back. “You’re fourteen miles south of Tavares, George. There’s a twenty-four-hour Shell station on Duncan. Tell you what, I’ll send it to your navigation system.”
“Yeah, right,” George said.
He shook his head and let out a brief chuckle. Fatigued from driving, he started rolling his head around loosely, sliding his right hand up to his face to rub his eyes. Through his partially closed eyes, George noticed some illumination. Thinking it could be oncoming traffic, he returned his eyes to the road. It was empty. The light was coming from the console, specifically the car’s navigation screen.
“What the hell?” George pushed the words out with a grunt.
“Don’t you love modern cars?” the voice asked. “Full of computerized systems with backdoors.”
George looked around the interior, realizing the voice was correct. There was the navigation system, the computers determining engine performance, and those monitoring endless amounts of data about the vehicle. The emergency response system featured two-way voice communication. Great for getting help after an accident or a flat tire, not so much when you’re running from a top-secret government facility. Real-time GPS tracking added to that fact.
“Okay George, here’s the deal.” The sickly humorous tone disappeared, replaced by a smooth, matter-of-fact one. “You’re going to follow the directions to the Shell station. Then you’re going to fill the tank and return to the facility. You are not to talk to anyone. Do not call anyone, do not flee on foot.” Then the campy quality returned in his voice. “You might want to grab a Red Bull or two.”
So there it was. The instructions did not surprise George at all, however, he could not comply. He had, on an instinctual level, a vivid idea of what was in store for him if he returned to the facility. It would start with “casual” conversation, most likely with a member of the security team. Facility leadership would be there, of course. They would want to know his thoughts. Then, they would tell him he was wrong and why.
That, naturally, would be a lie. George knew what he had stumbled upon. He had seen the documents, obtained samples, and studied them. He could lie, pretend to believe their explanations and play along, but to what end? What would his long-term plan be? Try to run again? No way. After this, his every movement would fall under intense scrutiny. He wouldn’t make it five miles. Then again, none of that mattered. He wasn’t going back, not on their terms.
Without a doubt, George knew he would never leave that facility alive. Even if he tried to play ball with them, they would surely see through his ruse. A man in his position, privy to such damning information, was a liability. He had sealed his fate the second he skipped town. If he hadn’t run, things might be different. George dismissed these thoughts. There was no chance he would return.
He would take his chances.
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